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This chapter is from the book

0.2 Networked Application Design Dimensions

It's possible to learn programming APIs and interfaces without appreciating the key design dimensions in a domain. In our experience, however, developers with deeper knowledge of networked application domain fundamentals are much better prepared to solve key design, implementation, and performance challenges effectively. We therefore explore the core architectural design dimensions for networked application development first. We focus on servers that support multiple services, or multiple instances of a service, and that collaborate with many clients simultaneously, similar to the networked application environment shown in Figure 0.2.

The design dimensions discussed in this book were identified by a thorough domain analysis based on hands-on design and implementation experience with hundreds of production networked applications and systems developed over the past decade. A domain analysis is an inductive, feedback-driven process that examines an application domain systematically to identify its core challenges and design dimensions in order to map them onto effective solution techniques. This process yields the following benefits:

  • It defines a common vocabulary of domain abstractions, which enables developers to communicate more effectively with each other [Fow97]. In turn, clarifying the vocabulary of the problem space simplifies the mapping onto a suitable set of patterns and software abstractions in the solution space. For example, a common understanding of network protocols, event demultiplexing strategies, and concurrency architectures allows us to apply these concepts to our discussions of wrapper facades, as well as to our discussions of ACE frameworks in [SH].

  • It enhances reuse by separating design considerations into two categories:

    1. Those that are specific to particular types of applications and

    2. Those that are common to all applications in the domain.

By focusing on common design concerns in a domain, application and middleware developers can recognize opportunities for adapting or building reusable software class libraries. When the canonical control flows between these class libraries are factored out and reintegrated, they can form middleware frameworks, such as those in ACE, that can reduce subsequent application development effort significantly. In a mature domain, application-specific design considerations can be addressed systematically by extending and customizing existing middleware frameworks via object-oriented language features, such as inheritance, dynamic binding, parameterized types, and exceptions.

Figure 0.3: Networked Application Design Dimensions

Within the domain of networked applications, developers are faced with design decisions in each of the four dimensions depicted in Figure 0.3. These design dimensions are concerned mainly with managing inherent complexities. They are therefore largely independent of particular life-cycle processes, design methods and notations, programming languages, operating system platforms, and networking hardware. Each of these design dimensions is composed of a set of relatively independent alternatives. Although mostly orthogonal to each other, changes to one or more dimensions of your networked application can change its "shape" accordingly. Design changes therefore don't occur in isolation. Keep this in mind as you consider the following design dimensions:

  1. Communication dimensions address the rules, form, and level of abstraction that networked applications use to interact.

  2. Concurrency dimensions address the policies and mechanisms governing the proper use of processes and threads to represent multiple service instances, as well as how each service instance may use multiple threads internally.

  3. Service dimensions address key properties of a networked application service, such as the duration and structure of each service instance.

  4. Configuration dimensions address how networked services are iden-tified and the time at which they are bound together to form complete applications. Configuration dimensions often affect more than one service, as well as the relationships between services.

We examine the first two dimensions in more depth in Chapters 1 and 5, respectively, while the third and fourth are discussed in [SH]. We illustrate the key vocabulary, design trade-offs, and solution abstractions first, followed by the platform capabilities related to each dimension, its associated accidental complexities, and the solutions provided by ACE, which evolved over the past decade in response to these design dimensions. As you'll see, the ACE toolkit uses time-proven object-oriented partitioning, interface design, data encapsulation patterns, and C++ features to enable the design dimensions of your networked applications to vary as independently and portably as possible.

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